Hillary-haters seize on trial of fundraiser in bid to smear Clintons

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The Independent US

A former fund-raising director for Hillary Clinton goes on trial in Los Angeles today to face accusations of campaign finance irregularities that political opponents of the former first Lady turned US senator hope will help dent her chances of a successful run for the presidency in 2008.

A former fund-raising director for Hillary Clinton goes on trial in Los Angeles today to face accusations of campaign finance irregularities that political opponents of the former first Lady turned US senator hope will help dent her chances of a successful run for the presidency in 2008.

To the growing band of Hillary-haters who have set up websites and political action committees to try, again, to stop her political career in its tracks, the case has all the hallmarks of sleaze and criminality they have long associated with both Mrs Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton.

The defendant, David Rosen, is accused of deliberately under-reporting the cost of a star-studded fund-raising event in Hollywood during Mrs Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign.

He is on record as having organised the event with the help of a convicted fraudster and cocaine-user called Peter Paul, who went to prison again after the 2000 election when he was convicted of defrauding investors in an internet venture he once hoped Mr Clinton would join after he left office.

But there are several reasons to doubt whether the case really has legs for the various Stop Hillary campaigns. First, Senator Clinton herself is not accused of wrongdoing and is not expected to be involved in the trial in any capacity.

Second, Mr Paul had a very public break with the Clintons after his shady past came to light in a newspaper article. Not only did he turn against the Clintons; it was his evidence that formed the basis of the prosecution. In other words, the Clinton-bashers cannot easily champion him and at the same time try to use him as a weapon in their campaign.

Third, Mr Rosen himself has not been accused of specific book-fiddling or questionable cheque-writing. The case is based on the allegation that he knowingly allowed Mr Paul to do most, if not all, of the under-reporting. The best evidence for that comes in a wiretap arranged by the FBI in 2002 in which Mr Rosen tells an interlocutor over dinner in New Orleans that the gala fundraiser probably cost more than was reported at the time.

The defence is likely to argue - with some justification, show media leaks of the wiretap transcript - that the tape is very far from an admission of wrong-doing and can just as easily be interpreted as a commentary by Mr Rosen on the untrustworthiness of Mr Paul, not an endorsement of his behaviour.

It probably does not help the prosecution that much of the alleged under-reporting came in the form of in-kind contributions, not hard cash, making it much harder to make the case for willful wrong-doing.

One of the four original charges against Mr Rosen has already been dismissed by the trial judge. He faces a maximum of 15 years behind bars if convicted on the other three counts.

From a political perspective, the trial is perhaps best seen as an attempt by Republican operatives to throw everything they can at Mrs Clinton in the hope that some of it might stick. That was their strategy in the 1990s, when endless investigations into the Clintons - their Whitewater land deal, the workings of the White House travel office, and so on - led, quite unexpectedly, to paydirt in the form of Monica Lewinsky.

So far, the various anti-Hillary campaigns have been far less successful in raising money than has the senator herself. Officially, Mrs Clinton is focusing only on her re-election battle next year, a battle even her bitterest detractors expect her to win with relative ease. Unofficially, she is widely expected to throw her hat into the ring for the White House in 2008. The prospect of the Clintons' return to the Oval Office is what has grassroots Republicans foaming. But the campaign to defeat her is not without its internal struggles. Mr Paul was initially championed by a right-wing legal outfit called Judicial Watch, but the two have since fallen out badly.

More than a thousand people attended the $1,000-a-head event during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in August 2000. The centrepiece was a concert featuring performances from Cher, Melissa Etheridge, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, Toni Braxton, Michael Bolton and Paul Anka.

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